If a tree falls in a forest dead of conscious life, to the awareness of no one, did it ever fall? Was it ever there? If this forest laid undiscovered, untainted by the perils of society, could it ever be found? In the absence of light, some life exists. It flourishes. For Brixton’s, Mike Ekundayo, life from underneath the spotlight is new. And while his adjustment to his rising glory has been nearly flawless, it is out from underneath the attention where he thrives.
A Moment of History
“The best thing about not fighting all the time, and not having the spotlight on you is, being able to graft in silence… you have that brief moment of people not giving you much attention or talking about you but you can use that to your advantage by still working in silence, still sharpening your tools and just getting better behind the scenes sort of thing. So when you’re now in the scene again, you’re gonna show something different.”
Cage Warriors 100 is a significant moment in the longstanding European promotion and Ekundayo. “Airlines” vies for his second championship title in 2018 when he takes on Jack Shore for the vacant Cage Warriors bantamweight title. For the organization, it displays how they stood the test of time where others did not. Holding up the bastion for western European mixed martial arts for sixteen years culminates in the promotions 100th numbered show. Names such as Michael Bisping, Dan Hardy, and Martin Kampmann all graced the Cage Warriors cage. Their blood and sweat built the stage for Mike Ekundayo to make the same walk as the men previously mentioned. The walk from locker room to cage, with the opportunity to return as a champion.
For friends, family, and fans of Ekundayo, this walk is a wild and new experience. But for the fighter himself, it is nothing new. Only a mere repeat of a not so distant past.
“There isn’t really much that you can say I haven’t experienced or gone through. There is nothing brand new about it. Take Cage Warriors the show. It’s a big show. I’ve fought on big shows already, I fought on Bellator. Take the whole it being their 100th show. You’re going to pull out all the stops on your 100th show, I’ve been through that before. I fought on Bellator 200. Take a legitimate contender in Jack Shore. I fought Ed Arthur, who was a legitimate bantamweight contender as well. [One] who everyone knew about and had a lot more hype than I do. Way more hype than I do. I’ve been through that already. Me fighting for a belt. I did that earlier this year. There’s not much about this next fight that is brand new to me.”
A Journey, Long and Arduous
It was about one year ago, this journey aligned itself. Following his third professional win, a reporter backstage asked the Team Titan fighter what was next for his fighting career. The thought permeated inside Ekundayo’s brain for a moment, then burst out. Belts and big shows, he exclaimed.
“That interview was actually last year, it was September 9th I believe. If it was I got a sick memory and I’m not punch drunk. I think it was September 9th after one of my fights. I’m very analytical about my performances and I was just reflecting on it. Then the guy asked me what’s next and I said the legendary statement, ‘belts, big shows’. Since I said that, I’ve had four fights. If you look at it, it’s been crazy. Since I said that statement, all the fights that I’ve had have been monumental. It really does back up the statement that I said.”
In February of the current year, Ekundayo headlined Rise of Champions 5. While the Rise of Champions organization is relatively young, the show was massively important. ROC 5 marked the crowning of the promotions first champion. The vacant bantamweight title was put in between Ekundayo and a streaking hot Jonas Magard. At the time, Magard won 7 consecutive fights. ‘Airlines’ stopped the talented Danish fighter in the second round.
Even before ROC 5, Ekundayo delivered on his promise of belts and big shows. He co-headlined ROC 4, defeating Gurdeep Shergill in a dominant display. Following the capture of his first title, an opportunity to compete on a historic show presented itself. That show was Bellator 200, another big show, undoubtedly larger than his last.
The Path Continually Traveled
The rise only continued as he went on to make his Cage Warriors debut two months later. Ekundayo co-headlined Cage Warriors 95 alongside the well established Ed Arthur. Much of the talk surrounding the matchup spoke on the behalf of the highly touted Arthur. So much so, when the cage doors closed and the bell rang what happened surprised many. Ekundayo dismantled Ed Arthur, rendering any attempts of offense from his opponent utterly useless. His performance reverberated in the stunned minds of many.
“Since I said that statement it’s just been belts and big shows. That’s all it has been, it’s just been belts and big shows literally. Three weeks after saying that statement it’s like I’ve backed it up. Its crazy, that’s why on my Instagram I posted up that statement numerous times. Because every time I think about it, for all that, I’m actually doing what I said I was gonna do. Belts and big shows, I’m not just talking, I’m not just talking for talking sake or talking for selling a fight, I’m actually doing it. I am actually doing it with each fight. With each fight, I’ve actually backed up that statement with some degree. Its crazy, there is power in the tongue.”
Further, into the consequences of the result in the final bout of Saturdays Cage Warriors 100, there is more than a belt of gold or top European ranking on the line. Jack Shore and Mike Ekundayo represent the two best bantamweights Europe has to offer. There is a possibility the winner of this high stakes match moves on to the next stage of their MMA career. In the case of Ekundayo, that is the UFC. In the mind of the Team Titan bantamweight, none of those consequences weigh upon him.
“Do I believe the UFC is watching this fight? 100 percent, the matchmakers are 100 percent watching this fight. Do I believe getting a dominant win on the 8th, which is what I believe I am going to do, will they sign? Will they have an offer for me? Yeah, more than likely… But I’m one that doesn’t put much focus in it and I’ve been on to do that for many of my fights. It actually reminded me of one of my interviews with yourself. When I beat Jonas Magard we did a post-fight interview and I actually said that I forgot it was for the belt.
I said I forgot it was for the belt and I’m laughing because things will align themselves. You just have to put your focus in the right places and then things will align themselves. For that particular fight, I put my focus somewhere that I thought was the right place and then it’s like the belt aligned itself to me. That is the whole reason why I sort of forgot it was for the belt. Not because I’m absent-minded, I wasn’t putting my focus and energy on the belt.”
For the massive majority of the human population, the levels that Mike Ekundayo has elevated himself too are so unattainable, the thought couldn’t even be mustered within themselves. On a mental level as well as physical. He is but a few steps away from the biggest fight of his career, to date, yet nothing but domination is on his mind.